Like its parent syrah — from which it emerged when crossed with peloursin in the nursery of French botanist Francois Durif in the 1860s — petite sirah combines dark fruit flavors with a very savory side of pepper, hot asphalt, and charred meat. Those savory aspects are elevated above the jammy ones when the grapes are grown in climates considered cool for each variety.
For the versatile syrah, “cool” means very close to the coast, typically in pinot noir territory. For more heat-requiring petite sirah, “cool” means almost anywhere other than the rather scorching environs of places like eastern Paso Robles and deep Napa, which is where the grape has historically thrived.
So Santa Barbara County, most of which is comparatively quite cool, isn’t home to much petite sirah. I can only recall some acres at Thompson, Refugio Ranch, and Rodney’s, as well as an experimental A-frame planting at Crown Point.
But thanks to this custom bottling for the Canary Hotel in downtown Santa Barbara, I now know that there’s at least a little more to be found at Carhartt Vineyard. That’s where Chase Carhartt, son of founders Brooke and Mike Carhartt, made the hotel this wine from the 2013 vintage. Their mesa-top vineyard is just east of Ballard Canyon in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley.
Expectedly deep flavors of elderberry and black currant show up when sipped, but the swarthy aromas of cracked pepper, beach tar, and raw beef are what hold the attention. Wine geeks like me who believe cool-climate syrah to be one of the world’s most interesting and delicious styles have another horse to track.
The wine is the result of a partnership that was hatched years ago between the Canary’s general manager, Ryan Parker; Chase Carhartt; and the winery’s GM, Joe Ramos. After falling in love with the winery’s tiny tasting room in Los Olivos, Parker explained, “We began brainstorming ideas of how we could grow our partnership for bespoke Santa Barbara experiences that are crafted and premium.”
They started sending their respective customers each way, the hotel suggesting their guests visit the tasting room, and the Carhartt newsletter including pairing suggestions from the hotel’s Finch & Fork kitchen. “That evolved to a winemaker dinner that started on our rooftop and ended in our private dining room,” said Parker, explaining that Carhartt and Ramos lead a biannual wine country training session and tasting with Chef Peter Cham.
The first wine labeled for the hotel was a syrah, featuring, yes, a canary on the label, and this petite sirah showcases a finch. Two more wines will likely be released this fall, although none of these are for sale directly. (Carhartt does sell their estate petite sirah at their tasting room.) Instead, the wines are put into special package deals, shared with VIPs, and occasionally poured during the daily social hour.
“The Carhartt partnership is personal to me, so I’ll try and create a personal connection with a guest by giving them a bottle,” said Parker, “All around, this has been one of my most fulfilling Santa Barbara partnerships that I’m very much proud of.”